Cairo in Chicago, 1893

Date: 21 November
Venue:  Institut français d'archéologie orientale and online
37 El-Shaikh Ali Youssef, Cairo
Source: IFAO

Source: IFAO

In cooperation with the Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale we are organising a lecture for István Ormos to present his book 'Cairo in Chicago. Cairo Street at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893', which has just been published in 2021. 

István Ormos is an Arabist and Semitist. His interests include Arabic philology, the history of medicine among the Arabs, Ethiopian studies, Arabic sources on the early history of the Hungarians, and the history of Oriental Studies. In recent years he has been involved in researching the life of Max Herz Pasha (1856–1919) and his work on the conservation of Arab-Islamic and Coptic monuments in Egypt. His monograph on Herz was published by IFAO in 2009.


Built as a temporary structure and made of ephemeral materials, “Cairo Street” had a dual nature. On the one hand it was a purely scientific installation, a piece of anthropology. On the other, it became the most popular entertainment venue at the World’s Columbian Exposition of Chicago (1893), a place where “people went wild with excitement”. Far from being a copy of any actual street, it was an assemblage of authentic architectural elements put together in such a way as to conjure up the atmosphere of the Arab-Islamic metropolis, the city of the Thousand and One Nights. Its impact was greatly enhanced by the presence of local Cairo inhabitants, who plied their trade, some of them with their camels, donkeys, monkeys, and even snakes. The belly dancing on Cairo Street caused an enormous stir: many claimed that it was immoral and called for its immediate suspension; others regarded it as a performance of important scientific and ethnological value. It was never suspended—and people flocked to see it.
An immense amount has been written about world’s fairs. This monograph represents a novel approach in that it subjects a single project, the Cairo Street, to detailed analysis, placing particular emphasis on interpreting it within the context of the Fair as a whole. What was the great uproar about the belly dancing? What motivated it? In order to answer these questions, this monograph attempts to offer a complex, multi-faceted, interpretation within the context of the society of the time.
Cairo Street was the sensation of the World’s Columbian Exposition, a fair which many sold their stoves, mortgaged their houses, spent their life savings or their funeral money to see. This monograph is enhanced with a ground plan and 168 illustrations.

The language of the lecture is English.

The lecture will take place on Sunday 21 November at 6 P.M. The event is public and open to all interested parties, in the IFAO conference room, subject to availability, as well as remotely through the Zoom application by following this link.